Land of the Free

Doks Robotiks mixes hip-hop with jazz to see what happens

Tyler Jennings Henderson, photos by Andrea Paulseth

‘STOOPING’ TO A NEW LEVEL. Eau Claire’s Doks Robotiks has released Free Form – a hip-hop/jazz fusion EP.
Doks Robotiks has released Free Form –
a hip-hop/jazz fusion EP.

Recording an EP before they ever hit the stage, Doks Robotiks – intentionally or not – seems to avoid convention on the Eau Claire music scene.

Free Form, the hip-hop/jazz fusion EP that marks the introduction of Doks Robotiks, features four original tunes that capture the propensity of creativity from a group of local college students. Starting a few years ago with a note written on Stephen Sutherland’s white board in the dorms by Rick Haneman and trombonist Henry Bergmann, Doks Robotiks has emerged from the stages of infancy, adding horns and vocals for a big-time sound that was released to the public on April 25.

“It just took someone to take initiative, get everyone together and just record a few tracks,” Haneman said. “And whatever happens, happens.”

“The creative process was very intertwined with the recording process,” pianist Andrew Bocher added.

The recording was made over the course of four days in January and is available on Bandcamp. It was recorded by Rob Hagen of Hagen Audio, executing double-duty as sound engineer and guitarist for the band. In addition to Hagen, Sutherland (MC name Konstant Movement), Haneman on drum set, Bocher on keys, and Bergmann on trombone, Free Form features Minneapolis emcee Adam Gumm, Kristofer Bergh on trumpet, and Kateri Farrell on vocals and flute.

“The recording was completely spontaneous. That was the beauty of it, that’s why we called it Free Form,” Sutherland said. “We just got everyone in the room and put a mic on everyone, and we would just run a song down from front to back. It was all freestyle for the MCs, too; it was all in the moment.”

While Doks Robotiks may have had a final goal in mind, the path to artistic enlightenment was an uphill battle over those four days.

“We weren’t fully prepared to capture anything that we ended up doing,” Sutherland said. “The big joke was every time we’d start a song, we’d ask ‘What’s the form?’ just trying to map it out without really knowing what we were going to do.”

“There’s a good demand for (this style of music) in the area. And we’re happy to step in and fill that need.” – Pianist Andrew Bocher of the multi-faceted jazz/funk/hip-hop act Doks Robotiks

In the time since the album was recorded, Doks Robotiks has performed a few times in Eau Claire and a couple of times in the Twin Cities. But while performing for the group takes a solid precedence, they all have other musical projects that they keep busy with. Sutherland, as Konstant Movement, released his own solo album about six months ago, and has been working to add some horn lines to his original music to add to the Doks Robotiks repertoire. He’ll be on tour this summer while Doks Robotiks works on a new lineup for a full-length album. Haneman and Bocher just released an EP earlier this year with local indie group Hounds Before Lions, Bergh and Bergmann play with local jazz groups, and both Farrell and Haneman play in local funk bands The Bug and Love Taxi.

“(Doks Robotiks) is a high priority right now,” Haneman said. “It’s hard with school, but in my mind it is.”

Doks Robotiks’ identity is not only rooted in the local jazz and funk scene, but follows the same blueprints as other hip-hop MCs in the area, including Sayth, Fathom, EJ, and more.

“Last summer we really started hitting it hard with hosting shows, bringing a PA system to a party,” Sutherland said. “Everyone loves the live music aspect of it.”

But for Sutherland, Haneman, and Bocher, this culmination of three years of jam sessions is meant to open new doors for their musical future, as well as the future of Eau Claire’s live music scene.

“There’s a good demand for (this style of music) in the area,” Bocher said. “And we’re happy to step in and fill that need.”

To learn more about Doks Robotiks or to download their EP, visit www.facebook.com/doksrobotiks or doksrobotiks.bandcamp.com.